There’s no shortage of product development articles that talk about Design Thinking and understanding the consumer. Here’s one from McKinsey.
While I like this article and I appreciate most of what is being emphasized in Design Thinking – empathy, truly understanding the consumer, using rapid feedback to iterate toward success – I think there needs to be some check on this relentless quest to find and please the consumer.
My analogy is this. What would you recommend to a friend who is looking for their perfect mate? This might be a stretch, but finding someone to fall in love with (someone who will also fall in love with you) is sort of similar to falling in love with a product or service. That might be a massive and weird stretch, but go with me here for a second.
The advice we give to people looking for love is universally this: be yourself. Be authentic.
We do not advise that you must study and fully understand the other sex. We do not say that you must have empathy. Sure, being understanding and having empathy are hugely important to relationships, but they don’t necessarily come into play until a little further down the road. And I would also still say that “being yourself” is still paramount to anything else, because if having empathy isn’t true to your nature, faking it initially is not a recipe for long-term success (in a personal or business relationship).
So I guess my conclusion is that while looking outward to the consumer is hugely important, and that we must understand the consumer, it’s also important to look inward and simply be ourselves.
Maybe creating an authentic brand or product comes first; the empathy and consumer study comes second.
Here’s a cool talk by Simon Sinek about doing and saying what you believe, rather than seeking guidance from the market on how to behave.
Another link on this concept of Authenticity – Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars talks about it.